The fourth annual California Wildlife Day took place on March 19th on a rainy day during the spring equinox. The event was hosted by the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy (CRWC) in partnership with the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District. The theme for the event was Connecting Communities: Wildlife and Watersheds, focusing on our stewardship of the land and how it affects the natural resources throughout California. This year’s event was held in a hybrid format, with the morning sessions taking place online and the afternoon events occurring in person at Garland Ranch Regional Park. The online speakers featured co-founder Lorin Letendre and former State Senator Bill Monning, followed by an Ohlone Rumsen blessing, and three panels to discuss wildlife, fire safe communities, and water resources. For a recording, please visit the Carmel River Watershed YouTube Channel.
The afternoon sessions at Garland Ranch Regional Park began with a blessing led by Stephen Arevalo, a member of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County. While rain fell, hands-on activities hosted by community partners and local student artwork were showcased in the Visitors’ Center. Antionio Balesteri and his birds of prey were a favorite of children and adults alike. Guests also participated in guided walks through Garland Ranch led by field experts. One of the walks called Nehi Mata, “Earth Walk,” was led by the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County and took visitors through the forest and alluvial plain to an ancient stone that indigenous peoples used for grinding acorns. At the native plant garden, the Ohlone Sisters, Carla Marie and Desiree Munoz, presented traditional songs and storytelling from the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe.
CRWC is grateful to all of its partners and guests, in person and through our virtual community, who made this year’s California Wildlife Day such a special event.
This spring the Cal State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) Watershed Institute in partnership with CRWC has been updating and developing the Carmel River Watershed Health Report Card. The two new indicators are Aquatic Invasive Species and Wildfire Regime.
New indicators planned for 2022-23 development are: American Bullfrog Population, California Red-Legged Frog Population, Invasive Vegetation, and Historic and Predicted Flooding. The Aquatic Invasive Animal Species indicator studies New Zealand mudsnails, Striped bass, and Brown trout. This indicator assesses the portion of the watershed currently infested and the severity of the infestation. In later years this indicator will also include Crayfish.
Throughout the summer the project will conduct surveys using environmental DNA where students will detect both invasive species such as the American bullfrog as well as native species like the California red-legged frog.
The Wildfire Regime indicator focuses on the amount of time between fires and portions of the watershed within the expected fire range. Currently 29% of the watershed is within the expected wildfire frequency range. The project also updated the score for the River-Floodplain Connectivity indicator from 40 to 57 following restoration efforts to increase the connectivity between the Carmel River and the 100 year floodplain.
CRWC is also creating a related story map exhibit for Palo Corona Regional Park visitor center. The story map, scheduled to go live this summer, will explain each indicator and how the public can get involved in the restoration work.
For decades, California American Water (CalAm) has been overdrafting the Carmel River, impacting the river’s health, surrounding ecosystem, and wildlife. To protect the river for future generations, a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) was enacted on December 31, 2021. The CDO will remain in place until the State Water Resources Control Board agrees to lift it. For the 2021-2022 water year, CalAm has legal rights to pull 4,110 acre-feet. The year after, it will shrink to 3,376 acre-feet of water.
Sections of the River near Rancho Cañada have run since the closure of the golf course, and are expected to further benefit from the reduced river pumping. The residents of Monterey County continue to be the most efficient water users in the state, utilizing an average of 57 gallons per person, per day.
While regional conservation efforts and reduced water extraction may have improved flows on the river, the persisting drought continues to challenge the Peninsula’s water supply and the local wildlife. Carmel River fish counts have shown 0 adult steelhead migrating or spawning in the Cachagua tributary for the past two years, according to Brian LeNeve of the Carmel River Steelhead Association.
According to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD), aquifer storage recovery (ASR) efforts are continuing at lower than expected rates because they are highly drought and rainfall dependent. ASR injected 70 acre-feet this year, though the expected average is around 1,300 acre-feet per year. Despite this, MPWMD says water rationing is not expected to occur.
We have already seen an early start to fire season throughout California due to ongoing drought and historically low rainfall. Recent data shows January, February, and March were the driest first three months of the year in California history. These conditions have prompted CAL FIRE to suspend all burn permits in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. It is imperative to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others from the threat of wildfire.
On June 1st, the Monterey Fire Department began conducting wildland fire safety inspections for all properties within Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Seaside. It is recommended that residents are proactive in maintaining the defensible space around their properties. For full information regarding defensible spaces, refer to the county guidelines. After inspections are complete, you can check the status of your property through the City of Monterey’s fire defensible space map.
Monterey County recently added it’s 17th Firewise USA® community, Hacienda Carmel Community Association, located in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The Firewise Communities / USA Recognition Program “teaches people living within the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) how to adapt to living with wildfire by preparing for a fire before it occurs” (Firewise USA). Many of the communities within the county are located within high to very high fire hazard severity zones. There are currently insurance companies within California offering discounts for Firewise USA® communities who have taken the necessary precautions to prepare for the threat of wildfire. To learn more about how to become a Firewise community and the resources available, visit the National Fire Association webpage, or Fire Safe Council for Monterey County.
Other ongoing wildfire management efforts include grant proposals from the Resource Conservation District for Monterey County (RDC) for fuel maintenance and fuel break work in Carmel Valley, and a join proposal from the RDC, CRWC and the Fire Safe Council for Monterey County to increase education and outreach, vegetation mapping, prescribed burning and other efforts in the Carmel River watershed and greater County area.
Trout Unlimited’s California Water Program completed two major fish passage projects in the Carmel River watershed to help native steelhead, and advanced other flow and fish passage enhancement projects in tributaries to the Russian and Sacramento Rivers. Our project on Cachagua Creek (Carmel River spawning and rearing tributary), for example, resulted in a strong partnership with the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, provided passage at all flows for steelhead, and dramatically improved access and safety for residents of a low-income community. The six-year project persisted through COVID-related supply chain issues, wildfires in two consecutive years, and other challenges.
In 1995, a complaint was filed against California American Water (CalAm), a local water provider for the Monterey Peninsula, for pumping water out of the Carmel River watershed at a rate nearly 4 times their allotted amount. This illegal extraction had endangered the health and habitat of the Carmel River. Doug Smith, an environmental scientist and professor at CSU Monterey Bay, says, “Surface water and groundwater in the Carmel Valley are the same thing.”
The impacts from overdrawing the Carmel River were hard to miss. In 1999, American Rivers named the Carmel River one of America’s top 10 most endangered rivers. Populations of endangered species such as the red-legged frog and steelhead trout were diminished due to lack of riverine habitat.
After years of debate and litigation, a Cease-and-Desist Order was issued to California American Water by the California State Water Board with a final deadline of December 31, 2021. This order requires CalAm to find alternative water sources to provide water to residents of the Monterey Peninsula.
In partnership with local water agencies, three alternative water sources have been identified. Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) facilitates the transfer and storage from one aquifer during its ‘wet’ season and replenishes another aquifer to be used during a ‘dry’ season. The second strategy is water recycling, led by Pure Water Monterey, who runs a treatment plant in Marina. And finally, desalination, or the energy intensive process of converting seawater into potable freshwater, is a local option for our coastal community. CalAm is currently working to secure permits from the California Coastal Commission to begin operating a large desalination facility in North Marina.
According to Dave Stoldt of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, between ASR and water recycling, there is sufficient water supply to serve the Peninsula for 2022 and 2023. Water recycling produces an average 300 acre-feet (AF) per month, or 3,600 AF per year, off of two deep wells. 3,500 AF is the annual requirement. A third deep well will come on line early 2022, expanding capacity.
Though 2020 was a drought year, there is still enough water in the ASR ‘bank’. That said, long term storage goals are delayed due to the time needed to fully build water storage quotas. Catherine Stedman, a spokesperson from CalAm, states that if water supply conditions or consumer demands change in the next few years, especially in the face of a drought, it could trigger the need for “additional mandatory conservation”.
The Carmel River Watershed Conservancy has partnered with the Fire Safe Council of Monterey County to strengthen wildfire preparedness efforts within our communities. Wildfire management protects both human communities and our ecosystem as wildfires become more destructive. These efforts include maintaining fuel breaks and thinning fuels to create effective defensible spaces. Within this partnership, both agencies have collaborated to create a comprehensive “Riparian Management Guidelines” to aid landowners in the proper management of the wide range of landscapes and vegetation types found within the 255 square mile Carmel River watershed.
Currently within the watershed boundaries there are five recognized Firewise USA® Communities: Robles del Rio, Rancho Tierra Grande, Club Place, Boronda Garzas, and the most recent addition, Carmel Views. To achieve this status, these communities have taken the necessary steps to increase resistance against wildfires within their area by implementing a series of steps including proper vegetation management, home construction and design, and community preparedness preparations. Prospective Firewise USA communities within the watershed include Carmel Knolls, Country Club Drive, Ranch House Place, Rancho Rio Vista, Santa Lucia Preserve, Sleepy Hollow, Tehama, Tularcitos Ridge, Carmel Valley Ranch, Via Los Tulares, and Via Quintana. For more information on how to become a Firewise USA® community, visit firesafemonterey.org or contact email@example.com.
Additional efforts to increase overall resiliency against wildfires include the installation of ALERT Wildfire cameras. Currently within the watershed there are seven ALERT cameras, one of which caught the exact location and direction of the fire on September 11th within Country Club Heights allowing first responders to arrive promptly to the scene. For information about installation of ALERT Wildfire cameras contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.alertwildfire.org.
Join us Saturday, March 19th to celebrate California Wildlife Day 2022! In partnership with the Monterey County Regional Park District, the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy hosts an annual celebration to honor the diverse flora and fauna found throughout California. This year’s festivities will return as an in-person event at the verdant Garland Ranch Regional Park. Our theme this year is Community Connection: Spotlighting Local Efforts to Care for Surrounding Ecosystems. From 10 am to 3 pm, join us for a day filled with exciting events for all ages--including: interactive animal showings, art exhibitions, live poetry, and special presentations from keynote speakers in the field. Exhibitors will be dispersed along the start of the Lupine Loop walking trail, located within the park. The event is free to the public. We hope to see you there!
CRWC chairs the Carmel River Task Force (CRTF), whose top priority now is to increase in stream flows in the Carmel River especially during the dry months of the year when the river tends to dry up. Besides working to find an alternate water source for the Peninsula in place of the Carmel River, another initiative we are working on is called “forbearance and recycling.” Forbearance means encouraging water users that regularly pump from the river’s aquifer to pump and store more water during the wet months. Then using that stored water during the dry months instead of pumping from the aquifer. “Recycling” means enabling large water users in the Valley to capture and treat wastewater and storm water for their non-potable irrigation purposes (see attached photo of a sample treatment facility). CRTF members are identifying prospects for either forbearance or recycling projects and then arranging funding to offset most of the project costs. If you are interested in participating in these initiatives please contract Lorin Letendre, CRTF Chair at email@example.com or John Gaglioti, CRTF Committee Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org.